A lot of the environmental movement, especially at the shallow end, is preoccupied with lifestyle changes. You know the kind of thing I mean – the top tips for reducing your plastic use or shrinking your carbon footprint. Go vegan. Get a bike. They’re often framed as sacrifices, things we have to ‘give up’ for the sake of the environment, though that’s often in the media reporting of environmentalism than the green movement itself.
These personal actions are all well and good, but there’s always a lingering question over how much difference they can make. The climate emergency is bigger than the sum of all our lifestyle choices. It’s embedded in fossil fuel use, in extractive models of industry, in consumer capitalism and its drive for economic growth. Individual action doesn’t challenge those bigger problems, and the focus on personal action lets the real culprits off the hook.
I’ve written about this many times, because I’m convinced there’s no either/or choice in play. (See my six reasons to take personal action here, or this book on what makes the biggest difference) I wanted to mention it again because the UNEP’s annual Emissions Gap report includes a chapter on lifestyle change for the first time this year. It’s written by Climate Outreach and they take a similar view to mine – that lifestyle change and system change go together, and that those with the biggest carbon footprints need to pay the most attention to lifestyle choices.
If you’re in the world’s richest 10%, you need to cut your carbon footprint by 90% to play your part in the global emergency of climate change. I am in that top 10% myself, and the majority of this blog’s readers will be too. As I’ve discovered, there’s only so far you can reduce your personal emissions before you bump into systemic challenges you can’t change on your own, so change needs to happen at different levels at once, supporting and reinforcing each other.
Here’s a video summary from Climate Outreach. Pass it on.